There is something about St Patrick’s Day.
But I am not exactly sure what it is.
To explain it…requires a History lesson. And there is something about the Irish. We live and breathe History.
It is a cliche that some nations are cursed because they forget History.
The Irish cant forget History…its also a curse.
Talk to a Historian for half an hour …we talk History.
Talk to an Irish Historian for half an hour…we talk Irish History.
Sorry…we just cant help it.
An obsessional desire to set the record straight.
So St Patrick’s Day.
Fifty years ago in Belfast, it was merely a small religious occasion. Catholics went to Mass, wore a shamrock, little girls wore green ribbons….and maybe some token Irish Dancing in Church Halls. My family was a non-drinking family who despised alcohol(I dont drink either) so there was a certain sadness with them if they saw a neighbour who had obviously been “drowning the shamrock”
Of course it is also true that in Belfast in my childhood…overt expressions of Irish Culture were frowned upon.
It was an atmosphere which was anti-Irish. If “culture” was frowned upon, then “nationality” was simply not allowed. The Irish National Flag was actually illegal in Norn Iron until the 1970s.
St Patrick’s Day…as a celebration …actually has its origins in the American Colonies in the mid eighteenth century…ironically the original celebrants were anti-Catholic.
But basically by the mid nineteenth century…Gangs of New York territory…it had become an overt celebration of Irish nationality and Catholicism…the labourers and domestic servants having an “in your face day” confronting the Establishment in the major American cities.
And as the Irish have integrated and prospered in the United States, then it takes on the character of being an American Success Story.
The Huddled Masses who went thru Ellis Island did ok…thats the narrative.
And yet St Patrick’s Day is celebrated world-wide. I think the Internet helps. There will be parades in Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow…not just where two Irish people gather together but the incredible thing is that the “feel good factor”, the story of triumph over adversity…indeed the simple story of SURVIVING…resonates.
We survived adversity and we will still take the opportunity to be “in your face” on one day in the year.
The Story of Ireland is NOT about Historic Success. It is about Historic Survival.
We are still here…and we are going to make sure that you know we are.
The irony is that Irish people actually went to New York to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.
They came back with the stories of Parades and Green Beer.
And the Irish thought….St Patrick’s Day ….”this looks like a good idea. I wonder if we should celebrate also”.
So we have the odd situation that the Dublin St Patrick’s Day parade is actually an importation from USA…indeed most of the marching bands will be from USA.
So it is easy now to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in Dublin….and indeed every major American, European, Asian and African City.
And indeed British City.
And where the Irish ended up…USA,Canada,Australia, England, Scotland…Argentina.
One of the things that I really only discovered after going online in 1998, is that there is actually a lot of goodwill towards my small nation of six million people.
Apart from occasional cliches and negative national stereotyping…it is actually very heartwarming.
And I am …I suppose…envious.
Because I live in”Northern Ireland”, just about the only place in the world where St Patrick’s Day cannot be celebrated in an honest way.
In my home city, Belfast …St Patrick’s Day Parades were not legal in the City centre until 1997. It was an overt display of Irish national identity. ANd therefore not tolerated by Unionism.
Belfast is thankfully a multi-ethnic city. People from India, Hong Kong, Philippines and several Eastern European nations honour us with their presence, enriching the city I love. But the City is now 55% nationalist and Norn Iron is 45% nationalist.
To take the view that Belfast is just another city in the United Kingdom is of course logical in unionist terms but the extension of that logic is that the “Irish” are the biggest ethnic minority in “this part of the United Kingdom” and at least worthy of as much consideration as Indians, Chinese and Eastern Europeans.
It is possible to celebrate St Patricks Day as one of three things.
1…a religious event, commemorating the Man who brought Christianity to Ireland 1,500 years ago.
2…Irelands National Day, celebrating our Nation.
3…a celebration of Irishness as a mere ethnic group.
To be fully inclusive ALL of these must be recognised. Yet in Norn Iron, the National Flag will be conspicuous by its absence.
Is it really possible to celebrate Cinquo de Mayo without a Mexican Flag?
US Independence without the Stars and Stripes?
Bastille Day without the National Flag of France?
The nature of a National Day is that it is exclusive to a nationality and inclusive to everyone of that nationality.
Political correctness dictates that in Norn Iron, the National Day of Ireland must be inclusive of British Unionists. That is nonsensical.
The postcard (below) was issued by An Post in 1999. It is a pre-paid postcard issued by An Post (the Irish Post Office) and was valid for postage anywhere in the world.
In the early 1990s for a few years, An Post issued sets comprising maybe six to eight pre-paid cards. This was actually quite a bargain and good for business …for An Post. Not so good for newsagents, card shops which sold “folded” cards. No real point in buying an expensive greetings card and then make the journey to the post office to buy a stamp.
The retailers certainly objected.
In Ireland we do not…generally speaking…send St Patricks Day cards within Ireland. We tend to send them to our friends abroad.
I have several of the pre-paid postcards from the early 1990s.
An Post has stopped issuing the pre-paid cards but a St Patricks Day stamp is now part of the annual Programme.
The postcard (below) is St Patricks Day in Belfast in 1997, the first year that the parade was allowed to go by Belfast City Hall.
HAPPY ST PATRICKS DAY
BEANNACHTAÍ LÁ FHÉILE PÁDRAIG